There wasn't much real mystery in “The Mystery of Irma Vep,” but there were lots of laughs at the expense of the mystery, gothic and horror genres in Lyric at the Plaza's version of the play by Charles Ludlam.
Shadows of trees on the walls dominated Jon Young's excellent, exaggeratedly creepy set for the “library drawing room of ‘Mandacrest' … between the wars,” where most of the action took place.
Equally exaggerated and on target were the performances of Monte Riegel Wheeler and Jeffrey Meek, who managed to stay one jump ahead of the audience changing roles and costumes in the wacky script.
Wheeler exploited the comic possibilities of the stiff, supposedly wooden leg of Nicodemus Underwood — which conveniently kept him from bleeding to death after it was ripped off by a wolf or werewolf.
Wheeler was even funnier as Lady Enid Hillcrest, first battling to not be intimidated by the portrait of the first wife of the manor, Irma Vep, then replacing her as the mistress of the house, and in the frame, in Act Two.
Meek was no less hilarious as the stuffy housekeeper, Jane Twisden, who may nurse a secret passion for Lord Edgar, whom he also played with aplomb, putting on the right airs and accent for the role.
But if Meek had a comic field day lording it over Enid and hunting wolves in Act One, he was even more amusing after intermission, leading a mission to see if Irma Vep was a long dead Egyptian princess.
Delightful in this scene, too, was Wheeler, both as a Boris Karloff-like guide, and as the reincarnated princess, doing a sexy spoof of an Egyptian dance, in one of the play's most outrageous moments.
Other atmosphere-creating theatrical assets included lavish, if exaggerated period costumes designed by Meek, and spooky music from a variety of sources by Jeffrey Sherwood.
Poking fun at everything from Shakespeare, Egyptology and Edgar Allan Poe to Emily Bronte's “Wuthering Heights,” the play did come perilously close to becoming “too clever by half,” or more than half.
But its two principals earned many laughs and a standing ovation for their role-changing antics, which brought to mind a British version of those inhabitants of the fictional town of Tuna, Texas.
Lasting under two hours, including one intermission, the production, briskly directed by Michael Baron, described in its subtitle as “a penny dreadful,” is well worth attending, especially for fans of all-out farce. "The Mystery of Irma Vep" will be performed 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, through Oct. 27 at Lyric at the Plaza, 1725 NW 16. For Information: 524-9312 or www.lyrictheatreokc.com.